Friday, January 15, 2016
The evils of land clearing
Humanity has been clearing native vegetation for thousands of years to make way for crops and grazing animals. But that is now all WRONG, apparently. There is a great shriek about it below. It's "environmental destruction" apparently.
Human modification of the landscape has been pervasive in Europe and yet Europe has a lot of very nice places to be. Try Austria's Salzkammergut, for instance, centered around an old salt mine (as the name implies). I can hear the shrieks now: A MINE? Mines can never be good to a Greenie. Yet people take vacations in the Salzkammergut to enjoy the beautiful environment. People have been modifying the environment there since ancient times in fact. Hallstatt is in the Salzkammergut, if you know your archaeology.
Hallstatt -- a site of ecocide?
And what about Italy? People have been marching to and fro and modifying the environment there for around 3,000 years. Yet many places in Italy -- such as Umbria -- are regarded as places of great beauty. Tourists flock to Italy in large numbers to see its beautiful landscapes and its modified environments. But they are just cattle to Greenie elitists, of course. Greenie elitists have THE TRUTH -- or they think they do.
Umbria -- Some of that awful farmland, no less
Why should Australia be different? Why can we not modify our environment into something we like better? Let us CHOOSE our environment rather than stay stuck with the native environment.
Why should we not? They offer two arguments below: The first is that land clearing will increase global warming -- but if that were a serious argument they would have offered some figure for the climate sensitivity to CO2. They do not. And they would find themselves in a morass if they did.
The second argument is that clearing reduces biodiversity. But it may or may not, depending on how the clearing is managed. And the reduced biodiversity in Europe seems to have done nobody any harm.
But even if we accept that all biodiversity is good and needed, it can be managed without blanket bans on all change. Farmers often leave a bit of the native vegetation alone for various reasons. The big disincentive to doing so is the fear of future Greenie blanket bans. Farmers clear everything while they can. So a program to reward farmers for setting aside pockets of native vegetation would do a whole lot more good than trying to stop clearing altogether.
NSW is set to join Queensland in tearing up key environmental legislation. The likely result will be widespread land-clearing and a greater contribution to climate change, writes Dr Mehreen Faruqi.
Imagine you were the NSW Premier in possession of a crystal ball, gazing into which you could see the consequences of your own policies. Suppose what you saw was what you were warned of all along: widespread land clearing and environmental destruction. Well, for Premier Mike Baird, a glimpse of the future is just north of the border, in Queensland.
Two years ago, the Queensland Newman government severely undermined native vegetation rules, resulting in the doubling of land clearing, the removal of almost 300,000 hectares of bushland (20 times the size of the Royal National Park in Sydney) and the release of 35 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, further exacerbating climate change.
Despite this damning evidence, the Baird Government is green lighting land clearing by pushing ahead with abolishing native vegetation protection laws in New South Wales. This is nothing less than attempting ecocide.
The NSW Native Vegetation Act 2003 has generally been credited with ending broad-scale land clearing in a state where 61 per cent of the original native vegetation has been cleared, thinned or significantly disturbed since European colonisation, most of it in the last 50 years.
According to a WWF report, the introduction of this Act saw an 88-fold decrease of felling, as well as preventing the deaths of thousands of native animals.
Not only is native vegetation crucial for biodiversity protection, it also improves farm land value and increases production outcomes. However, native vegetation management on private land has long been perceived as a battleground between landholders and conservationists, stirring up controversy between private property rights and the public interest.
Politically, the National Party has been a key opponent of biodiversity laws that require some form of permission and oversight before landholders can clear native vegetation. Not surprisingly, the unravelling of the Native Vegetation Act commenced in the first term of the Liberal National Government taking power in NSW.
In 2013, the then-Deputy Premier and Nationals leader Andrew Stoner foreshadowed the comprehensive overhaul of all biodiversity protection legislation. A range of new regulations soon followed, which allowed the removal of paddock trees and thinning of native vegetation to go ahead without the need for vegetation management plans.
Since these changes, more than 6,000 trees have been chopped. Even the Shooters & Fishers - key Upper House votes - have waded into this conflict, with a bill that, if enacted, would have done irreparable damage to biodiversity and native vegetation in NSW.
The next and perhaps most disastrous move is the report of the so-called `Independent Biodiversity Legislation Review'.
Even though more than 80 per cent of the submissions to the review called for retaining or strengthening protections, the recommendations call for the wholesale repeal of the Native Vegetation Act. It will also repeal the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and parts of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 Act, and include only parts of them in a mooted new Act.
This will be coupled with an expansion of the flawed biodiversity offsets policy. Once biodiversity is lost, it is often permanent.
The Review recommended that the Native Vegetation Act should be repealed because it had not stopped biodiversity loss. This unsophisticated approach completely ignores the huge reduction of broad-scale clearing as a result of strong laws (despite inadequate resourcing for their enforcement). Moreover, it has turned a blind eye to the multitude of government policies that result in major biodiversity losses, for example, mining approvals that clear swathes of forest and habitat.
The new regime proposed by the Biodiversity Legislation Review is set up to fail. Clearing will be allowed even if it does not improve or maintain environmental outcomes. Under the brave new world of environmental (mis)management, already under-resourced local councils will be lumped with an unprecedented workload to deal with land clearing on a case-by-case basis, with no overarching state-wide environmental oversight.
While the anti-environment Nationals and the Shooters and Fishers are looking forward to ripping up the Native Vegetation Act this year, environment groups, conservationists and the Greens are gearing up for a vigorous fight to stop this destruction of native vegetation and wildlife.
It doesn't need to be this way. There is enough evidence to prove that weakening biodiversity protections will lead to an increase in land clearing leading to further fragmentation of precious ecosystems. At a time when climate change is taking bite we need more, not less preservation.
Former NSW Labor staffer unleashes on 'misogynistic' party
Former Labor candidate and staffer Stefanie Jones has unleashed on her own party claiming it is full of "filth" and has a "disgusting" attitude to women
Embattled NSW ALP boss Jamie Clements has refused to resign amid accusations of sexual harassment.
Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten has been quietly calling for Mr Clements' head since he was accused of pushing former Labor staffer Stefanie Jones against a wall and trying to kiss her in June, the ABC reports.
Mr Clements, a married father-of-three, signed an agreement not to approach Ms Jones for 12 months yesterday, in a last-minute deal to avoid an apprehended violence order being levelled against him.
Mr Clements said the deal was not an admission of guilt on his part. "I have cooperated fully through this process and am pleased it has reached a resolution which allows all involved to move forward," he said. "Having had discussions with my family and colleagues, I have decided this is the best way to move forward and focus on the challenges of 2016."
Ms Jones, 27, who ran for the seat of Cronulla in the 2011 election, unleashed on her own party today claiming it is full of "filth" and has a "disgusting" attitude to women. "I think if I had my time over again I would just run (away)," she told the Daily Telegraph. "I would never want to go through this again. It's been soul-destroying. Everybody wants it under the carpet.
"There's such a lack of support (and) as long as the party has people like (that in it), the filth ... the continuation of disgusting treatment of women will continue."
Ms Jones said Mr Clements turned on her when she said she was planning to tell her fianc‚, Labor organiser Dave Latham, about a one-night stand they had in 2013.
"(Mr Clements) turned, grabbed the side of the chair I was sitting on (in the parliamentary office in which she works) and said, `If you do that, it will destroy everything for all of us. Dave will leave you, that's a terrible idea'," Ms Jones said.
Stunned, Ms Jones said she backed down and agreed to not tell her fianc‚.
Mr Clements briefly left the room but then came in and allegedly locked the door before demanding: "'I want a guarantee. I want a guarantee' and stood over me and said `I want a guarantee, kiss me. Kiss me. You know you want it'." Ms Jones said.
Bill Shorten has ordered a report into the scandal. "We have no tolerance for workplace harassment and I do expect this matter to be now resolved, full stop," Mr Shorten said.
Police charged with assaulting teen boys who filmed alleged attack
Thug cops tried to cover up their misdeeds by destroying evidence
There are concerns over the handling of the internal investigation into an alleged assault of two teenagers by police.
A mobile phone video taken by a teenage boy as his young mate was allegedly assaulted by two policemen was mysteriously deleted on the night of the attack, but could now provide damning evidence when the officers face court in May.
The footage was only recovered when the father of one of the boys paid $4000 to an IT consultant, but its disappearance raises serious concerns about the handling of the internal investigation into the officers' conduct.
It is understood the family of one of the alleged victims will ask the Office of Public Prosecutions to examine the case, while the matter could also be referred to the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission.
Leading Senior Constable Dennis Gundrill and Senior Constable Simon Mareangareu will face the Ringwood Magistrate Court over the alleged assault on Christmas morning 2014 near a convenience store in Vermont.
The boys, who had just completed Year 11, were detained for several hours at Ringwood police station, and later charged with resisting arrest and possession of a small quantity of marijuana. But all charges against the 17-year-olds were dropped in August last year.
An internal investigation by Whitehorse CIU was only launched when the father of the alleged victim handed over video footage from the phone.
It is understood there are discrepancies between the statements given by Mr Gundrill and Mr Mareangareu, which also differ markedly from the footage of the incident and evidence given by an independent witness.
Mr Gundrill and Mr Mareangareu were initially suspended with pay, but both men are now permitted to perform non-operational duties. They have not faced any disciplinary action from Victoria Police.
Mr Gundrill was previously involved in a serious assault at Ringwood police station in 2008, when he held Bonsai gardener, Tim Vivoda, before another officer punched him "as hard as he could" in the face. The entire incident was captured on CCTV cameras.
During a civil case in the County Court in 2013, Mr Vivoda was awarded $130,000 in damages after Judge Chris O'Neill ruled his treatment by police had breached his rights and undermined public confidence in the force.
Judge O'Neill expressed reservations about Mr Gundrill's credibility during the trial and rejected some of his evidence.
"Clearly the evidence was given after a reconstruction from the footage ... That was an artificial reconstruction and not an honest recollection," Judge O'Neill said.
The most recent allegations of excessive police force raise further concerns about the contentious practice of police investigating their colleagues, particularly when the respective parties are known to each other.
According to the Human Rights Law Centre, more than 90 per cent of complaints about police conduct are referred back to Victoria Police, despite the IBAC having jurisdiction to handle them.
"When serious allegations are made against police, it's essential that the complainant and the public have confidence in a system that is fair and impartial and properly resourced to deal with their complaint. Serious complaints should not be referred back to police to investigate their own conduct," said HRLC spokeswoman Anna Brown.
In July last year, Victoria's highest court referred allegations of police brutality and racism to the IBAC to determine if an independent investigation should be launched into a complaint by Ethiopian man Nassir Bare.
Mr Bare claimed that officers smashed his teeth in a gutter, racially vilified him and capsicum-sprayed him when he was handcuffed, after police stopped his car in February 2009.
The now defunct Office of Police Integrity decided not to investigate the allegations by Mr Bare, who unsuccessfully appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Victoria.
But the Court of Appeals found the OPI's decision was unlawful and ordered the matter be sent to the IBAC.
Parents of whooping cough victim share heartbreaking video of baby's final days
Because they have destroyed herd immunity, the anti-vaxxers kill babies. One example below. In their ignorance and paranoia, they have a lot to answer for
The devastated parents of four-week-old Riley Hughes, who died of whooping cough last year, have shared confronting vision of the struggling infant's final days.
In an emotional Facebook post, mum Catherine said she had kept the videos to herself since Riley's death in March of 2015 but felt compelled to share the heartbreaking clips in an effort to convince other parents to take measures against spreading the disease.
"I have always kept these videos to myself, as it makes my blood run cold listening to my beautiful boy cough like that," she wrote.
"But we are sharing this in the hopes that it will convince just one more pregnant mum to protect their baby from this disease."
Mrs Hughes has previously said how she was vaccinated as a child and received the booster shot three years before Riley's birth, "and was told by medical professionals this was sufficient".
Baby Riley was admitted to Perth's Princess Margaret Hospital when a tiny cough took over his body.
The cough developed into a "whoop" sound and left the little boy struggling to breath. Within days, the disease destroyed his lungs and heart and ultimately took his life.
Too young to be vaccinated, Riley's family had been defenceless to the highly contagious disease.
But along with dealing with the loss of their baby, Riley's parents have used their experience to campaign for awareness of the importance of vaccinations, and making sure new mums know what they can do to keep their babies healthy and prevent their children from infecting other kids.
"Whooping cough can be deadly in young babies ... but it can now be prevented," Mrs Hughes writes.
"A whooping cough vaccine in the 3rd trimester of each pregnancy provides excellent protection from whooping cough to newborns (who are too young to be vaccinated). Keeping those who are sick away from newborns is also important."
The family has made it their mission to "help ensure no more babies die from this disease".
"I loved being Riley's mum for those four weeks. I wish it were longer," Mrs Hughes captioned the very personal video message.
"Please share to help ensure no more babies die from this disease, which I hope one day will be relegated to the history books."
FactCheck: does Australia run one of the most generous student loan schemes in the world?
"Australia runs one of the most generous student loan schemes in the world". - Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham, speaking with Sarah Dingle on ABC Radio National Breakfast, January 4, 2015.
When asked for data to support the assertion, a spokesperson for the Department of Education and Training said that
"Compared to other student loan schemes, the income-contingent nature of both Higher Education Loan Programme (HELP) loans Trade Support Loans (TSL) protects low income earners from making loan repayments they may not be able to afford. Australia's student loan schemes allow deferment of repayment obligations in cases of extreme financial hardship. During the life of the loan Australian students pay no real interest rate".
Overall, it is true that many features of Australia's loan schemes for tuition fees make it more generous than most other countries that charge for higher education. But from a student's perspective, how generous Australia is depends on exactly which aspect of the loan scheme you're looking at.
This FactCheck will examine how Australia compares to other countries when it comes to:
the two key types of student loan schemes on offer here and overseas;
how generous Australia's scheme is compared to countries with similar schemes;
how much you have to earn in different countries before loan
how much different governments internationally subsidise the cost of higher education;
the interest rates charged on student loans;
and finally whether there are any countries where students don't need a loan to get a degree.
The two key types of student loans
Australia's Higher Education Loan Programme (HELP) lends students the cost of their tertiary education fees, and requires repayment on an income-contingent basis.
For 2015-16, repayment starts when HELP debtors reach an annual income of A$54,126. At that point, debtors repay 4% of their income.
Many other OECD countries also offer public loans to students for higher education, usually a mortgage-style loan. Under mortgage-style loans, repayments are required regardless of income and do not vary with how much debtors earn.
Only a few countries offer national level income-contingent student loans, including Australia, England and New Zealand.
Unlike mortgage-style loans, income-contingent loans prevent students who are unable to repay going bankrupt or having their credit rating downgraded. That could be considered generous.
How does Australia compare to other countries with income-contingent student loans?
Three key aspects of HELP's settings determine how generous it is among countries with income-contingent student loan schemes:
the initial threshold for repayment
how much needs to be repaid each year, and
the interest rate on debt.
The HELP income threshold of around A$54,000 makes it the highest in the OECD. For graduates with a relatively low to average income (below A$54,000), the scheme is more generous than in other countries.
For people earning above the threshold, repayment systems are harder to compare. HELP has the lowest repayment rates, between 4% and 8% depending on income. This compares to 9% in England, 12% in New Zealand, and 10% to 20% on some limited US income-based loans. But HELP repayments are calculated on a debtor's entire income, while in other countries repayments are based on income above the threshold.
If a HELP debtor earns just above the threshold, she or he would repay 4% of total income - A$2,100.
Compared to New Zealand, this is relatively generous. New Zealand loans require debtors to repay once their income is above around A$18,000 (NZ$19,000). Assuming an income of A$54,000, with a repayment rate at 12%, the compulsory repayment would be around A$4,400 a year - twice Australia's compulsory repayment level.
In England, the threshold is around A$35,000 (œ17,000) repaying at 9%. As in New Zealand, compulsory repayment is calculated based on income above the threshold. A debtor who earns A$54,000 would repay around A$1,700 under the English system.
Compulsory repayments by income and country
Interest rates on debt
The last test of generosity is the interest rate the government charges on student loans. Australia indexes HELP loans to the consumer price index, which means that loans keep their value in real terms. The government typically borrows at a higher rate, so taxpayers pay much of the interest on student debt - a point that was emphasised by the minister in the interview referred to at the beginning of this article.
While Australia's system on interest is generous, New Zealand's is more so: the NZ government charges no interest on student loans unless debtors live overseas for longer than six months.
In England, interest rates on student loans vary by income. If debtors earn below the income threshold, their debt would be indexed to the retail price index or RPI (a measure of inflation).
But on income above the threshold (or study full-time), the interest is up to RPI plus 3%. High-income debtors face higher interest rates making their student loans less generous than the Australian system. Both the US and the Netherlands charge the government's cost of borrowing on their student loans.
Are there any countries where students don't need a loan to get a degree?
Finally, it's worth noting that several OECD countries, including Germany, Finland and Sweden, charge only nominal tuition fees or no fees at all.
Both Australia and New Zealand provide a direct government subsidy to most undergraduate students that reduces their fees and how much they have to borrow. But the New Zealand government subsidises a higher proportion of total course costs than in Australia on average.
In England, most teaching subsidies have been abolished and students pay the full cost of their degree.
Senator Birmingham is right: Australia does run one of the most generous student loan schemes in the world. It's one of the few countries to offer income-contingent student loans - saving people on low incomes from paying off their students loans, as is more common in the US and other countries.
Is it the cheapest place in the world to get a degree? That's a different question altogether. As noted above, several OECD countries, including Germany, Finland and Sweden, charge little or no tuition fees.